Subj: Said Aburish - a tale of 70 factions & 400 suits
Date: 12/2/2001 8:27:36 AM Pacific Standard Time
New Statesman (U.K.)
Monday 26th November 2001
A tale of 70 factions and 400 suits
Where is the opposition in Iraq? Pursuing its own vicious quarrels,
writes Said Aburish
President Bush, beware: if you really want to extend the Afghan war to
Iraq, you should know that the nightmarish internal politics of
Afghanistan are as nothing compared with those of Iraq. The Northern
Alliance may not be a very palatable alternative to the Taliban, but it
has a certain rough credibility. There is no equivalent in Iraq.
Over the two years I spent writing his biography (Saddam Hussein: the
politics of revenge), I got to know Saddam's opponents. They are such a
corrupt, feckless and out-of-touch lot that they make the Butcher of
Baghdad look good.
The four million Iraqi Kurds are divided into two tribes, the followers
of Massoud Barazani (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and those of Jalal
Talabani (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan). Together, they occupy a large
enclave in northern Iraq where they have conducted an on-and-off civil
war for years. Barazani and Talabani disagree, often bloodily, over how
to divide the money they get from the CIA, which pays them to keep
Saddam off balance. They fight over the proceeds from smuggling goods,
including oil, between Iraq and Turkey. And they compete for the bribes
Saddam offers them.
Their hostility to each other keeps them from doing anything to bring
down the Iraqi regime. In fact, they choose to forget that Saddam used
chemical weapons against them, and shamelessly accept financial and
military support from him. They even accept financial help from Iran.
Iraq's Shi'as, 60 per cent of the population, are equally split. Some
want an Iraq with close ties to Shi'a Iran; others insist they are Arabs
and that, to succeed, they should depend on fellow Arabs, namely Kuwait
and Saudi Arabia. A third group believes in co-operating with the US,
and accordingly gets paid for it. The US and UK are reluctant to help
the two Shi'a groups that command real followings inside Iraq, largely
because Daawa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq are
In addition to the Kurds and Shi'as, there are more than 70 other
"opposition" parties. Some are made up of Saddam's old cronies, people
who turned against him after they lost their jobs. To make a living,
they accept the backing of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. They publish
newspapers and magazines no one reads. They have no offices or
followers. In private conversation, they admit that their cause is
Other anti-Saddam parties are led by former Iraqi army officers; some
are Saddam-appointed generals, people who rose through the ranks because
of their loyalty to him, rather than any military competence. Their
reasons for opposing him are also mostly personal - demotions or
The last anti-Saddam faction is made up of old politicians who left Iraq
in the 1950s, when the monarchy was overthrown. Having lived abroad most
of their lives, the leaders of these groups know very little about Iraq
and its people. According to one of them, Saddam should not rule Iraq
because he came from a poor background and "we don't even know who his
father is". Another claims that Saddam is an undercover Mossad agent,
part of "a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Iraq".
These are the groups the United States is trying to unite under one
command capable of toppling Saddam, as the Iraqi National Congress
(INC). Over the past ten years, they have met in Vienna, Salahuddin in
northern Iraq, at Windsor and, most notably, in New York in October
The participants frequently walk out during these meetings; the men
quarrel over who got most of the $96m allocated by the US to Saddam's
opponents under the Iraq Liberation Act. One of the delegates at the New
York meeting told me about the former INC chairman Ahmad Chalabi: "He
takes more than his share, much more than his share, and I get nothing.
Just look at the way he dresses. They say Saddam has 300 suits; well,
this guy has 400."
Last year, both Frank Ricciardone, the former head of the Iraq desk at
the US State Department, and General Anthony Zinni, the former head of
the US Central Command, stated that the Iraqi opposition to Saddam was
incapable of toppling him. Yet now, with 11 September and the war on
terror, Washington's commitment to overthrow Saddam is growing stronger
by the day. As a result, the United States is re-energising the idea
that these groups can replace a regime which runs one of the most
tightly organised security systems in the world.
But this is a fiction. Recently, I examined my notes of the lengthy
interviews I conducted with 82 Iraqi opposition leaders. I began
identifying those on my list whose thinking resembles Saddam's. To my
horror, I decided that 75 of the people I interviewed were men who would
kill to achieve their goal.
Poor Iraq. Even if Saddam goes, Saddamism, corruption and violence are
there to stay.